The growth of the Islamic State, the attacks on September 11th, and other seminal events have all added to the debate over the phrase radical Islamic terrorism. There are those on the right, President Trump especially, who have suggested that the inability of Democratic leaders to use this phrase is unacceptable. To Mr. Trump, it demonstrates their lack of awareness of the real problems surrounding anti-terror efforts. Democrats, according to Mr. Trump, show cowardice when they omit this more combative phrasing.
But has President Trump or anyone in the Republican Party thought about possible reasons for why people like President Obama refuse to use this tagline? Some say the reason is due to the growth in political correctness in the United States. That answer is short-sighted and not thoroughly thought-out. Perhaps President Trump is not taking into account other reasons President Obama would not use that description. Why then do Democrats in foreign policy take great care to keep radical Islamic terrorism out of their speeches and policy proposals?
In the eyes of Obama, this term is not only wrong; it is counterproductive. If a Muslim American in the Middle East, or an Islamic government in the region, heard the President use radical Islamic terrorism to describe extremists, the likelihood that those individuals would be willing to assist the United States government would drop dramatically.
The majority of Muslims do not see themselves as lumped with extremists who commit mass murders and human rights abuses. The majority of the victims of those crimes are, in fact, Muslims. When the President uses other words, like violent extremists, to describe these criminals and radicals, it is not due to a fear of being criticized for political incorrectness, it is a calculated phrasing. It’s used to ensure Muslims at home and abroad seek cooperation with the United States. By refusing to put violent extremists in the same category as the rest of Islam, the President shines a much more positive light on the United States.
Using alternative phrases also minimizes the use of propaganda terrorist groups can create to recruit new members. If ISIS had clips of President Obama using radical Islamic terrorism to describe violent extremists, they would undoubtedly use them to highlight their narrative of the United States as a Muslim hating nation. Enlistments in their ranks would rise, which would only hurt our fight against these extremists.
When President Trump says there is a problem with radical Islamic terrorism, he is playing into the hands of the extremists. He gives them validation. He is categorizing extremists as members of the Muslim faith, to which the majority of Muslims vehemently speak out against. Trump gives terrorist organizations ammunition to paint the United States as an enemy of Islam and Muslims everywhere.
President Obama was not worried about public opinion; he calculated the best way the United States could gain cooperation from foreign and domestic followers of Islam to combat radical extremists. Hopefully, Trump will begin to realize that.